Best way to lose an old tool?
October 3, 2010 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I think my sister's ex is stalking her. Do people who work at collections agencies use fake names, and would they be able to stalk people that way? If so, what can I do?

My sister dated this guy for at least 5 years who is manipulative, controlling, and otherwise a complete douchebag. I will call my sister 'Alice' and the ex 'The Tool'. The Tool cheated on her in their house, the girl he cheated with moved in, the cheating parties got married, and Alice had to move home because she had spent all of her money on him. Long, stupid story.

The Tool knows, and has known since day one, that I think he is a sleaze and a con artist. So imagine my surprise when he contacted me on Facebook, saying that he is divorced, had moved to the area where Alice and my parents live, and that he wanted to contact Alice to give her some belongings of hers. This is more than two years after Alice moved home.

I called my parents and alerted them, and my mom said that someone had called the house last week looking for her. My mom said that she knew the voice, but couldn't place it.

The convo:
Caller: "Alice?" (Smarmy, and as if he knew her)
My mom: "No. She's not here. Who is this?"
Caller: "Tell her that Davey Jones called, and give her this number."

My mom is certain that it is The Tool, and had written the number down. So I called it, prepared to ask for The Tool and to trap him in his lies. I got voice mail for a collection agency, which is in the city where my parents, Alice, and The Tool live.

I had a nice little Facebook message war with The Tool, which turned into a phone call. I was very calm and explained that I would be in the city, and that I would pick up her things, or that he could talk to my dad (who also hates The Tool). The Tool started blustering, and hung up on me. This turned into a text war which ended in me ignoring his attempted jabs at my character. I even gave the option of having him ship the things that he says he has to my work address, and then reimbursing him for the postage. He flatly refused.

I don't think he has any of her belongings. I am fairly sure (duh) that he wants to get her face-to-face and manipulate her again. He said that he tried to contact her every day since he moved there. Alice is on my family plan for her cell phone, so I checked the records. The Tool had been texting her, but she did not respond. I blocked his number. Alice does not have Facebook.

Alice is not a strong person, and is particularly vulnerable right now. He destroyed her life, or at least seriously damaged it. I want to keep him away from her. Has anyone here worked for collections, and if so, is it possible for someone who works at a collections agency to look up anyone with a credit score and then stalk them? What steps could/should I take to help her? Or, if someone has other thoughts or a differing opinion, I am open to that as well. My sister has been set back significantly because of this person, and she is slowly recovering. I don't want her to fall back to where she was.
posted by bolognius maximus to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your sister needs to get a restraining order against this guy as soon as possible.

In my experience, collections agencies and similar work are a magnet for sleazebags because they offer insecure people a chance to play enforcer. That doesn't mean that's what happened here, but I think it pushes against mere coincidence.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:29 AM on October 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

So, just to be clear, you think the ex works for the collection agency? He already knew where your parents live, right? I am not clear on what you think he's doing that constitutes stalking, or what you're worried that he could do. He could show up at your parents' house, but again, I assume after at least five years of dating Alice that he already knew where they live.
posted by amro at 11:29 AM on October 3, 2010

amro, seems pretty clear that The Tool is trying to find out where Alice is living now. That he is being evasive indicates that his intentions are probably not honorable, and everyone is trying to protect Alice from this guy being able to stalk her in future.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:31 AM on October 3, 2010

People who work in telephone sales/marketing of any kind often do use aliases. There are a lot of ways that he could have found your sister's phone number. But more importantly, I think that given the history you've laid out for us, and as someone who was in an abusive relationship, I think that your instincts are spot on. The whole "i have your stuff and want to give it back to you" is a time-honored tactic to do exactly what you think he's going to do.

(For everyone who's going to say "how can you say that, maybe he's trying to do the right thing" - doing the right thing is getting a mailing address and shipping the belongings. Not refusing to give them to a relative or friend or insisting that he hands them to her personally.)

Your sister can delegate someone to be her representative in dealing with a collections agency. There's nothing that says that you can't tell the collections agency to deal with an attorney, accountant, or other representative. So you can still return the call on behalf of your sister and if whoever answers says that you can't, you know it's The Tool.

The best way to protect your sister is to let her know that you and the rest of your family supports her 1000%. That she can call you at any time for advice or support. That you won't think she's crazy. I would consider a restraining order. Make sure that your parents and Alice's friends are 1000% understanding that there is no "giving him a chance' or "being nice" or "not wanting to cause a scene". They need to understand that the ONLY response to him is no response and that they should support Alice in walking her away, hanging up the phone, closing and locking the door. It can be tough for people who don't like confrontation to be dealing with manipulative asshats like The Tool, and the very real danger there is that, say, he approaches Alice in a restaurant and her friends don't jump up and call for the manager and take out their phones and call 911, that they get uncomfortable and say"well he's just talking to her, maybe he's changed, why do we have to be mean" and then she is very vulnerable and has no support.

However, I would stop getting into Facebook or text message wars with The Tool. I would respond to his next contact with a statement that you do not wish to be in communication with him and any further contact will be viewed as harassment. And if he keeps trying to harass your sister, get a restraining order. These days, restraining orders cover things like text messaging and Facebook, believe it or not.
posted by micawber at 11:37 AM on October 3, 2010 [12 favorites]

Thanks for the advice so far. I did tell The Tool that if he contacted me or any member of my family that I would contact the police and file harassment charges. He said that I was making "idle threats" and that this "likely is not harassment". If he wants to play ball with me, I'll shove the bat up his ass.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:45 AM on October 3, 2010 [13 favorites]

2nding Micawber (all of it). Adding that you need to continue to support her, even if she makes choices you don't agree with. Unconditional support is the only way she'll continue to have a lifeline should she get back with him.

The Stalking Resource Center is a great place to start.

Also, "manipulative and controlling" is domestic violence, and you might look at resources along those lines, for both your sister (if she's interested) and you (for what you're dealing with).
posted by Gorgik at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2010

As someone who has been stalked, and whose family and friends tried to be helpful and didn't always succeed, I say please, please, please do not EVER reply to anything he says ever again. You've said you'd contact the police if he contacts you again. If he does, do that. Don't tell him you're doing that, don't say "I've asked you before and now I'm asking you again." Nothing. No return comment EVER. Just tell the police. Please. Make sure other people who are aware of the situation do the same thing.
posted by brainmouse at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2010 [22 favorites]

Everyone should stop all contact with The Tool, block him on FaceBook, etc. Next, file a restraining order if there is probable cause. Also, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for additional ideas of how to protect your sister. If your sister does have an issue with a collections agancy she should clear up the problem with them, if she doesn't, she should call the collection agency and tell them The Tool is using their number to harass her. Basically it boils down to what your sister does or does not do, if she goes back to him, there is not much you can do about it.
posted by MsKim at 11:51 AM on October 3, 2010 [6 favorites]

As a disinterested party, I'm going to suggest that you seem to be injecting yourself into this situation to a large degree, that you're treating your sister like a child and that perhaps you should discuss with her what she would like to do about this. Whether he stays away from her or not is not your decision. Yes, you're being protective of your sister and that's a good thing, but you seem, based on what you've written here, to be taking this to an extreme.

It also seems as though you're enjoying battling with him, perhaps to satisfy your own desire for revenge. That may not be healthiest of things for you to do.

None of this is meant as critique of you, your behavior or anything like that, just something for you to consider. Your behavior may be feeding his behavior and if so, is that really what's best for your sister?
posted by nomadicink at 11:59 AM on October 3, 2010 [14 favorites]

From knowing people who have been seriously stalked, here's another vote for do not ever respond. Say nothing at all. If he calls, just put the phone down. If he messages you, do not reply but save the message.
posted by quarsan at 12:07 PM on October 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you are concerned about stalking, you and every Facebook friend of Alice should block The Tool, and Alice should review all of her Facebook privacy settings to make sure Tool doesn't see her updates or tagged photos via friend of friend connections.

Also, photo uploads may contain GPS coordinates, especially if they're taken with smartphones.

I guess what I'm saying is that, if Alice has an online life, Tool will eventually find her. If Tool really works at a collections agency, then even online doesn't matter - Tool may be able to pull Alice's credit report with her current address.

All you can do is slow Tool down or set up legal penalties, unless the situation is so dire thst Alice is willing to go underground.
posted by zippy at 12:16 PM on October 3, 2010

...and Alice should review all of her Facebook privacy settings to make sure Tool doesn't see her updates or tagged photos via friend of friend connections.

Per the original post, Alice does not have Facebook.
posted by nomadicink at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2010

Yes, your sister is an adult. Yes, you should talk with her about how she can best protect yourself.

But speaking as someone who has actually been a victim, APPLAUSE. You care, and you aren't going to stand there on the sidelines and wait for her to ask for help or oh gosh well you know the poor guy he just wants to talk to her i just don't see what's so bad or wrong and you know there are two sides and he just wants another chance and i don't know why she cant just listen to what he has to say

HE'S HER BROTHER. HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE PROTECTIVE. You are SUPPOSED to care about and want to protect the people you love.

It is much better to have someone who is visibly standing up as a protector because it sends a clear message to the abuser that their target IS NOT ALONE.
posted by micawber at 1:00 PM on October 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


According to the profile, bolognius maximus is a she, not a he.
posted by nomadicink at 1:07 PM on October 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

2nd brainmouse. In your sister's shoes (which I have tried on) I would've been freaked the hell out to find you'd been having text wars with my stalker, actually rather scared of you in an 'I can't trust her; whose side is she on? Why is she talking to him?' way. Do not engage.

You really should not have called the number that was left to call. Please, back out of this. Right now all you are doing is egging him on, and encouraging him to feel that he has a place in your lives, your sister's included. Even "Tool, Alice wants nothing to do with you" is a violation of Alice's privacy, which has by this point been so badly violated that it really needs to be the primary consideration. This isn't a normal person; you must know that -- the result of 'Piss off' is not going to be 'What a jerk. Okay then, I'll never talk to those people again,' but just a bunch of excitement over how successful he was at getting back in to Alice's inner circle.

As for where you go from here: I can't speak for Alice, but I can offer that I did not want to hear the "helpful" updates from friends and family about their recent contact from my stalker. Ignore further messages, and escalate to a restraining order only if he is very persistent in trying to contact you. I would at that point consider saying 'Alice, I have been hearing a lot from Tool, and I am considering going to the police to protect myself.' Otherwise, shush.
posted by kmennie at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of times before the police will do anything, you have to stop all contact with the person. Don't respond to any more messages. If he contacts you again, tell the police. Do not respond. Seriously. Even if the cops won't do anything, at least you aren't making idle threats. Change your sister's phone number (with her permission, of course). Do not give the new number to anyone who might give the number to the guy.
posted by elpea at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2010

By definition, people who work in collections have zero ethics, fake names merely being a routine part of doing business, and not even remotely the slimiest thing they'll resort to.

That said...

Block contact on Facebook, do not respond to any provocation, get your sister to look into a protective order, read the many many posts on the Green about how to deal with stalkers. Sounds like a bad situation; get in front of it.
posted by kjs3 at 2:09 PM on October 3, 2010

If you are concerned that The Tool may have access to your sister's credit info through his employment at a collections agency, your sister needs to lock down her credit through the credit agencies, to protect herself from potential identity theft. It adds more steps to obtaining credit for herself but it protects her from others misusing her information.

Also, she should not have any bills delivered to the physical address where she lives. This is what those personal mailbox places like Mailboxes Etc. are for. If The Tool does manage to obtain her address through a creditor, using a PMB will prevent him from using that to show up on her doorstep unannounced.
posted by ambrosia at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm agreeing with everyone above who said you need to stop talking to this person. I know you have nothing but Alice's best interests at heart here, but you're just feeding the drama. If this guy is a manipulative jerk, he's going to get significant satisfaction from you responding to him. Engaging with him is just giving him another way into her life with you as a vector, and he's not going to stop as long as you are paying attention. Alice has no control over how either you or him are behaving, yet I'm sure she's still hearing about all this, and is therefore involved but powerless to stop it. Ignore, ignore, ignore. And then take out a restraining order if he continues to harass though you have not engaged.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:31 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]'re absolutely right to raise every defense you can for her. Stop engaging him.
posted by LairBob at 2:47 PM on October 3, 2010

I don't work for a collections agency nor have I ever, but at my job I have access to a database that gives me information about pretty much anyone in the country. I can see every address John Smith has ever lived at, every phone number ever associated with him, his SSN, his DOB, his relatives (and all of their info too), his assets, the VIN for his car, etc. etc. etc. Theoretically, I can use this information to find further info about him that's publically available on the internet. So the information is certainly out there.

What exactly is accessible to a collections agency, I don't know. But for any company using these databases, you have to have a legitimate reason for any search you do. If someone were to search for Bill Gates or whatever public figure just for shits and giggles, my workplace is immediately notified and asked why the search was performed. If the company doesn't have a legitimate reason, they're account can be immediately closed, they could face legal action, etc.

It isn't terribly difficult to find someone's address via Google, and presumably Tool had some idea of where your sister lives or some other identifying info, which makes things easier. I imagine if a crazed stalker was really dead-set on showing up at his ex-girlfriend's doorstep, he could easily sit as his computer for hours trying to find whatever info he could.

You said you called the number he left. You don't necessarily know this is the number he called from, correct? To me, it sounds like he was trying to verify that Alice lived at that address or that she can in fact be reached at that number. "Hey Alice!" "No, Alice is at work. This is her mother." Well mother just unknowingly verified Alice's address. Now how does he get out of the convo (because suddenly hanging up might look suspicious, especially if he intends to soon show up without notice)? "Oh, this is just John. I can't remember the name of that really good restaurant she told me about, so I was calling to ask her. Could you have her call me back at 555-5555?"

He may or may not work for a collections agency, but personally I wouldn't assume he does because he was able to find Alice's number. If it turns out he does, and he has access to databases like the one I described, I'm certain he'd be fired on the spot if his employer found out what's he doing. It's a liability for them. (& FYI, if you were to find out he works for a collections agency, I am not suggesting you try to contact his employer or do anything that would upset him.)

I agree with everyone else. You need to stop all forms of contact with this guy.
posted by overyourhead at 3:36 PM on October 3, 2010

[micawber, nomadicink, cool it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:59 PM on October 3, 2010

the result of 'Piss off' is not going to be 'What a jerk. Okay then, I'll never talk to those people again,' but just a bunch of excitement over how successful he was at getting back in to Alice's inner circle.

I cannot second this enough. The other thing of this ilk is, for example, if he's calling over and over, don't pick up after the 35th time to say "stop calling," because all he's learned is that it takes 35 tries to get a response (and he doesn't especially care what type of response, any response is access to her/her family), so he'd better start again now.
posted by brainmouse at 5:15 PM on October 3, 2010

[micawber, nomadicink, cool it.]

MetaTalk thread about that.
posted by nomadicink at 5:37 PM on October 3, 2010

Thanks for all of the responses, I do appreciate the different viewpoints. (and thanks, nomadicink, I am female). FWIW, the text war was a mini-war, and after I made it clear that he was harassing and not to contact anyone in my family, I quit responding to his messages, which had become assaults on my character. The last message he sent on Facebook, which I also did not respond to, he made it clear that he would not mail any of her "belongings" to me or meet with anyone else, just her. I don't know if I will tell her that I he contacted me, because I am truly afraid that she would go and meet him, and he would manipulate her into coming back. Her self-esteem is that low, and her life is that much of a disaster. It has been 2 years since Alice left, and while she has made progress, she has made very little progress and barely functions.

Nomadicink, you also brought up the question of my motives. For 2 years she has lived with my parents, which is making them miserable. Which they take out on the other sisters. They want her to move on with her life, yet they in a way enable her inability to function. I want my parents to be happy, Alice and my other sisters to be happy, and have everything back to a relative "normal". I think that trying to help achieve that is not really revenge. He started in with me, and I ended it.

I have not engaged The Tool since, and he has to be at the bottom of the barrel if he is contacting me, because he knew from day one that I hated him. My parents are aware and are screening phone calls. I also alerted my other sisters in case he tried to contact them. If I he contacts me in the future, I will simply call the police.
posted by bolognius maximus at 5:49 PM on October 3, 2010

Has your sister been to therapy?

If it has been 2 years, and she is still this vulnerable, then she needs far more support and clarity than even loving family can provide.

Furthermore (and speaking from experience) the roots of this problem probably go back to dynamics your sister learned in her childhood. In other words, your parents home may not be the best place for your sister to get some perspective on this mess she (in a sense, again from experience here) created for herself.
posted by jbenben at 6:56 PM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your sister needs to learn how to set boundaries for her well-being. She needs to acquire the skill of saying "NO" to these insidious types of shenanigans on her own.
posted by jbenben at 7:01 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
To answer your questions about collections, I work for a debt collection attorney. I have names, addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases date of birth, SSN, and employer information. The addresses and phone numbers are given to us either by the client (who is owed the money) or the debtors themselves when they call in to make payments. They are not always up-to-date and we have been given false information before by debtors (I don't recommend this - run long enough and there will be a warrant for your arrest.) Do I use a fake name? No. But I don't give out my last name either. Can I pull a credit report or run a skip trace? Not without my boss knowing, and it would cost him some money too. I can't say that other collection agencies work the same way. If you have some concern that he is using their database to track her, I would have the police contact his boss.
posted by jessamyn at 10:00 PM on October 3, 2010

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